It was difficult to know what to expect walking into The Palais. Ben Folds has been a particularly strange pop icon who since the early 90s has delivered such a wide variety of unexpected hits that it is almost impossible to try to pin him down as a performer.

Folds’ smiling arrival on stage was met with huge anticipation from his awaiting audience as he and his band of five jumped into ‘Levi Johnson’s Blues’. The opening songs of the set focused on the material from his new album, Lonely Avenue, a collaborative work with bestselling English novelist Nick Hornby. From the get go Ben was eager to explain the song writing process that he shared with Hornby and it became very clear that he had no intention of playing a ‘best of’ set. The new song ‘Belinda’, in particular, demonstrates the profound melding of the tragic and the funny, which both Folds and Hornby are renowned for. The ballad, written from the point of view of a 1970s rock star constantly forced to perform his biggest hit, a love song dedicated to his ex-wife, reflects the more endearing qualities of Folds’ past work. A tendency towards the comical didn’t stop there as the band pushed the new material aside in order to break into a rendition of Ke$ha’s hit ‘Sleazy’.

By this stage, the band and the audience were both well and truly warmed up as they moved through ‘Sentimental Guy’, ‘You To Thank’ andEffington’ with high energy piano solos and one particularly memorable dance routine from Folds’ enthusiastic percussionist. At one point a voice from the crowd echoed through the room requesting ‘Rock This Bitch’, a series of improvisational songs that has become a well known staple at Ben Folds concerts. Without disappointment Ben and his band launched into a jam, which ended in Folds running around the stage shredding his mini-synth before the stunned patrons in the front row.

One of the great highlights of the night was the introduction of Brisbane songstress Kate Miller-Heidke, whose operatic singing style sent an electric burst of energy through the room. Folds and Miller-Heidke complemented each other’s quirkiness perfectly as they sang three duets including ‘Songs of Love’ (a Divine Comedy Cover), ‘From Above’ and the truly spectacularYou Don’t know Me’.

The band and Miller-Heidke then left the stage to allow Folds to play some solo songs. The five-song set focused around a series of tunes, which he described as ‘naughty songs’. These mainly dealt with the subject matter of middle-aged men behaving badly, a theme also reminiscent in Hornby’s work. He then played, ‘The Luckiest’, which he described as a ‘palette cleanser’ for the previous four songs.

The band took back to the stage to deliver crowd-pleasers ‘Rockin’ The Suburbs’, ‘Army’ and his Australian breakthrough hit ‘Underground’. As Folds waved goodbye, the old theatre shook from the sound of stomping feet and clapping hands. During the short break the applause never ceased, and many in the eager crowd rose to their feet as the band returned to wrap up their whopping thirty song set with another rendition of ‘Rock This Bitch’, ‘Zak and Sara’, ‘Philosophy’ andTheme From Dr. Pyser’.

–       Ben Wright-Smith